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tv   American History TV  CSPAN  November 5, 2014 1:57pm-3:38pm EST

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speaker tonight. colonel gregory a. daddis is an academy professor in the department of history at the united states military academy at west point where he currently serves as the head of the american history division. a west point graduate, he's veteran of both operations desert storm and iraqi freedom. he holds a ph.d. from the university of north carolina at chapel hill and is author of "no sure victory, measuring u.s. army effectiveness and progress in the vietnam war" oxford university press, 2011. his newest book "westmoreland's war, reassessing american strategy in vietnam," oxford university press, 2014, was recently selected for inclusion on the chief of staff of the army's professional reading list. colonel daddis is also an important -- important to this organization as liaison between the society for military history, region two, and the new
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york military affairs symposium. welcome, colonel daddis. [ applause ] >> thank you, robert, for the kind introduction and bob for the invitation. i'm not only happy to be here, given new york traffic, i'm also lucky to be here. [ laughter ] ize watch the clock tick away, not only only palisades driving down from west point but also in the cab trying to get us from the hotel to here, it was a -- it was a close-run thing, as some will say. so, what i thought i would do this evening would be to really start with something that happened last week in the white house. and there was an uproar, as you might have recalled last week, at the white house. it was not wry lated to the president's tan suit, which got quite a number of remarks, as we
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saw, but more significantly for my conversation this evening with you, was really revolved -- really revolved around one word, and that word was "strategy." and the president igniting criticism by saying that we don't yet have a strategy against isis targets in syria caused an uproar, certainly among the president's political opponents and i thought it would be worthwhile to spend a bit of time before we get into vietnam talking about the word "strategy." we use it quite often, don't we? we have a strategy for everything. we have a business strategy. we have an i.t. strategy. we have a strategy for our fantasy football league and we have a strategy for our binge watching of netflix films and yet notice original context, we are still somewhat unsure of what the word strategy means. so, if we go back a built and take a look at this word before
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we get into vietnam, i think it will serve as a foundation for the rest of our talk this evening. and as jc wylie, a theorist in the 1960s said that strategy is a loose sort of word and a concept that certainly has evolved over time. so i thought our starting point with this word should be with every military historian's favorite prussian, claude von clausewitz, magnum opus on war, dedefined strategy, the use of engagement for the purpose of war. this limited inception responded on the commander's ability to shape individual complains and today's lexicon, what military officers might call the operational arc. but for clausewitz, at least in this somewhat limited definition, and he used a number of definitions for strategies on war, but i am going to focus on this one because i think it is the most popular, in this sense, strategy focused on the conduct of battles and its results. and of course, this is in the
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aftermath of the napoleon ic was and definition seems to holds through much of the 1800s, by the time we get to the end of the first world war and in its wake, there seems to be a bit of a problem with this definition and certainly british military theorist basil dell hart will render a serious criticism of clause wits and the praushen's supposed glorification of battle as a principal element of strategy. we need to that liddell hart is writing in the wake of this awful, awful war that causes hundreds and thousands and millions of casualties and now there seems to be a problem with this word, at least how it's been defined by clausewitz. so, what liddell hart tries to do with strategy in his definition is to broaden it some more. he therefore tries to define it as an art of distributing and applying not just military means, but a nation's means that are more holistic in a sense, to
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fill the -- fill the -- fulfill the ends of policy, a nation should look more to -- more than just its military means and more than just that a nation's armed forces to serve a sensible policy have to not just focus on military campaigns but properly allocating and coordinating its resources. and certainly for liddell hart, manpower is the most precious of those resources in the wake of world war i. a and liddell hart's strategy is not just focussing on the campaigns but the larger objective of supporting a concept that will hopefully avoid damage to a future state of peace. so, here is the art of grand strat jay concept that liddell hart will focus on to support his indirect approach for achieving war's political objectives n short, this focus encompasses more than just fighting power. answered says that we should
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focus on other instruments of power, financial, diplomatic, commercial, even intellectual and all brought brought to bear for weakening an opponent's whether and talk about this problem of getting at your enemy's will in the context of vietnam this evening. here, strategy is more than just the pure utilization of battle. so, those are two competing definitions. now, more recently, we have seen others who looked the strategy as a relationship. colin gray will concentrate on this relationship as the successful prerequisite for the prosecution of strategy and colin gray will define it as a bridge and that bridge is relating political -- military power to political purpose. it's neither military pure per se nor is it political purpose. it is a relationship and certainly, a different way, i think, an important way to think
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about strategy. now, what this suggests, as matthew ridge way writie inrighn the aftermath of the korean war will maintain as well is that strategy is not just the purview of military officers. in fact, in the opening of the cold war and certainly the atomic age, ridgway will speak of the need for civilian leaders to work closely, as he says, with military authorities in setting attainable goals and in selecting the means to attain them. certainly, a piece that i would like to highlight this evening. so, here we see strategy as being something more than just the unique preserve of military officers. now, we might also consider the fact that strategy doesn't work out the way we always want it to. michael howard, the famous britishist historian, expanded he is sane at mediterranean theater in the second world war said the allied strategy, the british and american strategy in
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theed me ter jane ran theater was a piecemeal affair in which military leaders often -- simply had to do with -- to do what they could, where they could with the forces they had. so, is it possible that military leaders extemporize when it comes to war and thus should we look at strategy as a system of expedience? so, that's kind of an extended preface, if you will, to my talk this evening on strategy in the vietnam era and especially under the ten your of william westmoreland, who was a commander of the u.s. military assistance command in vietnam, or macv, i promise that you will be the only acronym i use this evening. so, given these competing definitions of strategy, how did the united states army define strategy, as it was looking to the possibility of deploying forces to southeast asia in 1964? combat troops. and here is the 1961 definition
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of strategy from the diction of united states army terms. okay, you ready for this? i have to take a deep breath to make sure i get it all out. this is the definition of strategy. "the art and science of developing and using the political, economic, psychological and armed forces of a nation during peace and war to afford the maximum support to national policies in order to increase the probabilities of victory and to less the chances of defeat." that is a useful definition, is it not? it is so vague as to be almost too broad to be useful. now, critics of the vietnam war will shy away from this very, very broad definition and if there is one word that is most associated with american strategy in vietnam, it is the one word of attrition. critics of the war maintain that william westmoreland, the
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commander of macv from 1964 to 1968 prosecuted a ground campaign in south vietnam in the 1960s and he employed a flawed strategy of attrition. just one word. attrition. concentrating at the expense of all other missions on killing enemy soldiers. so,s here the story, that westmoreland is hypnotized by the prospects of high body counts. he leads the army to failure because he never realizes that the insurgency war inside south vietnam is not like the war in korea and is not like the second world war, that he has focused, above all else, on killing the enemy and up the doesn't understand there are basic requirements and basic changes needed for the army to successfully win the war in vietnam. detraerkts of this attrition strategy will argue that if only he had employed a better
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strategy focusing on countering the southern insurgency rather on the conventional threat from north vietnam, americans, in fact, could have achieved victory. so far afield do the detectors are go that one former superintendent of west point, a former adviser to the south vietnam -- south vietnam forestry said the strategy of attrition was, in fact, an absence of strategy. others take note of this, one biographer of both westmoreland and creighton abrams, west more land's successor, said that abrams immediately moved away from an attrition strategy upon taking command of macv in 1896 -- 1968 and the argument goes that he will increase an emphasis on securing and pass fig the population. we will talk about this word, pacification in a bit.
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will manifest such an enlightened and effective approach to strategy, abrams had, in fact, one the war by 1970, a better war fought by a better commander had, in fact, triumphed. now, i think there is a problem with these criticisms and the problem is facts. that facts actually get in the way of a good story. and as a historian, i have a problem with that. that factses sometimes should not get in the way of a better story. in fact, william westmoreland did not countenance exclusive policy of attrition on killing the enemy. in fact, the word attrition, if not the word strategy, seems to have been misunderstood, not just by contemporary critics but i would argue by more recent historians as well. macville's commander never used the word attrition solely to focus on killing the enemy. in fact, i think he used it more to express his belief that this war in vietnam could not be
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achieved quickly, that it was not going to be won in a matter of months or even years. and this definition of attrition was more to demonstrate the war was going to be long rather than demonstrate a narrow commitment to victory through battle. so,s here the main argument that i would like to make this evening, that westmoreland's own comprehensive approach was a realistic military strategy and, in fact, did recognize the complex nature of the threat and the effectively employed u.s. forces to combat a sophisticated enemy threat that was both conventional and unconvention ago al ---al. nothing could have positioned american forces in reach of victory. and i think this was a point that was well understood by westmoreland.
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now, of course, comprehending the complexities of strategy and effectively implementing that strategy are not one in the same, i will discuss that a bit this evening but i think this was a point well understood by west more land. so we might suggest then that the united states failure in vietnam had less to do with commanders choosing a correct or incorrect strategy for the ground war than it did with the inability of foreign forces to resolve intractable problems within south vietnam's government and society. it is possible to have a good strategy and still lose a war. in the opened, i think the saigon government, part of the story that often gets left out of many american centric histories, i think it was the saigon government that could never fashion if not articulate an idea of vietnamese
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nationalism accepted and shared by a bulk of the south vietnamese population. i think this is an incredibly important point to realize here. that in this civil war over vietnamese national identity in the modern era, there were simply some question that foreign force does not answer. i think an uncomfortable proposition for americans in the early 1960s. might suggest that is an uncomfortable proposition for americans today. so my opinion, based on my research, the american faith in the power to reconstruct if not create a south vietnamese political community led to policies which never fully addressed the fundamental problem and the fundamental issue. and this was a struggle to define vietnamese nationalism and identity in the modern age. not only had american political military leaders overestimated their ability to bend north
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vietnam's will or bend north vietnam's leaders to their will, but they also overestimated and perhaps more importantly, their ability to help build a political community inside south vietnam. and i think in the aftermath of world war ii in particular, remember, that this is a nation that single handedly one world war ii, never mind that there were allies involved, it was tom hanks landing on the normandy beaches on d-day that single handedly won the war for us, that this is, i believe, something that was difficult for americans to accept in the aftermath of world war ii, many if not most, u.s. civilian and military leaders uncomfortable with a possibility that the capacity of americans to reshape, if not create new political and social community overseas, could only achieve so
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much. how is it possible that there are limits to american power? all right. so where to begin? i think probably the best place is with the myth. and the myth goes something like this, that the americans come out of world war ii, they whip the war successfully, single-handedly. and the united states army comes out of that conflict with one understanding, and that is conventional operations will lead to political objectives. and it is a point that seems to be somewhat reenforced, at least in the korean war and a basic pillar of this popular narrative on american strategy in vietnam thus rests on the contention that counterinsurgency was poorly understood by the united states' army because it was wedded to this conventional concept coming out of world war ii and korean war. but the facts suggest another story. as west point's superintendent from 1960 to 1963, westmoreland,
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in fact, instituted mandatory counter insurgency training for all cadets. under west more land's ten your, the military academy stood up a counter insurgency committee. and that committee found that the interdisciplinary nature of this subject required cadets to study the political, military, economic, psychological and sociological aspects of unconventional warfare. so, cadets, under westmoreland's ten your as superintendent will study the thee ret cal works of mao. cadets explore the histories of revolutionary struggles in the philippines and indochina. upon assumption of command in vietnam in 1964, west more land is bringing a host of
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theoretical study with him that was really being imbued in the officer in west point and filtered throughout the army and its training programs. when he does assume command, he has a broad, broad mission and it necessarily follows a broader interpretation of political military objectives and the problem of achieving those be a joke it was in the modern era, certainly in political military complex in which revolutionary warfare plays a big role. so the objective for which -- for which west more land is given is to achieve a stable and end pep dent, non-communist government in south vietnam. this is a dpaunis a daunting po objective. we might question whether it was one possible to be achieved by west more land, if not by any american military commander in 1964. to create a stable, independent,
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non-communist vietnam. again, a daunting, daunting objective. so, because of this objective, west more land, i think, necessarily has to develop an all-encompassing strategic concept that sought not only to destroy the enemy forces but to country local insurgency inside south vietnam and also, perhaps more importantly, to expand the percentage of south vietnam's population under saigon government's control. again, we might question the capacities of americans to do just that, to expand the percentage of the local population under the saigon government's control. now, june 1965 cable from westmoreland outlines his concept of operation and it notes clearly that the insurgency in south vietnam must eventually be defeated among the people in the ham let's and towns. westmoreland realizes that this
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is a war that is going to be fought among the population. and as he directs his commander later this year, the war in vietnam is a political as well as a military war. it is political because the ultimate goal is to regain the loyalty and cooperation of the people and to create companies which permit the people to go about their normal lives in peace and security. again, i think he understands the problems that's facing but we might question the capacity of his forces to achieve the ultimate goal of regaining the loyalty of the local population. so, westmoreland, i think, seems to have understood the importance of trying to relate military power to political purpose >> and i think this is a blitz most difficult of tasks for any military commander, not just those that were serving in
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vietnam. now certainly, westmoreland used the word attrition. he used it in his memoirs. he used it in his correspondence with senior around subordinate commanders. he used it in back channel messages too the white house and the pentagon. but every time he used it, it was in the context of talking about a long war. now, certainly the threat and mission required a broad concept of operations, as i will talk about momentarily. and simple words like attrition could not fully characterize this war that he is trying to prosecute. so when you read west more land's messages to subordinates or the pentagon and the white house, they suggest a jeep that is less focused on killing or a tritting the enemy and more onity mating, especially to those directing the war effort, if not to the population at large, that this conflict in vietnam is not going to be concluded in a swift manner.
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attrition underlined the problem of fighting a prolonged war. as west more land wrote to the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff in june 1965, the premise behind whatever further actions we may undertake must be that we are in for the long pull. this struggle has become a war of attrition. i see no likelihood of achieving a quick, favorable end to this war. so, having realized that this is going to be a long war, having realized that he has a daunting purpose in front of him, he now has to craft a concept of operations, a strategic concept, to implement his military forces to direct his military forces toward achieving his political objectives. as his chief intelligence officer will later recall, west
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more land had not but one battle to fight but three. first, to contain the growing conventional threat, that happened is the external threat, if you will, at least how the americans thought about it, certainly not how the hanoi politburo thought about it, but from the american standpoint, first to contain a growing conventional threat. and this is the external threat from north vietnam. we need to understand that by early -- by mid to late 1964, there are already north vietnam meesz regular army units that are infiltrating into south vietnam. most of them, or most famously infiltrating along the ho chí minh trail. second, west more land has to developed republic of vietnam's armed forces. so, not only does very to focus on the enemy's main force units, but he also has to focus on building and developing the local south vietnamese forces, not only to combat the conventional threat from north vietnamese forces but also the
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insur gent threat from the national liberation front or more popularly and pejoratively known as the vietcong or vc. and finally, the third leg of this stool, full, is to pacify and protect the peasants in south vietnamese country side. again this is a lot on west more land's plate. in the summer of 1965, he publishes what will become nope as his three-phase concept of operations n phase one, he visualize the commitment of u.s. and allied forces necessary to hall the lose willing trend by 1964. and this is an important point. we need to remember thank by early 1965, and he werely by the spring of 1965 there is a realization that if the united states does not commit ground forces to vietnam, that saigon government is going to fall. so, west more planted's first step is to halt the losing
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trend. he will call it in some of his memoirs a fire brigade strategy. of defending major political and population centers, defending military base and preserving and strength.ing the south vietnamese armed forces. so, first, he has to stabilize the situation before anything else. not just militarily but also politically. in phase two, westmoreland sought to resume the offensive, not just to destroy enemy forces, but also to reinstitute rural pacification and rural construction activities. in this phase, aimed to begin in 1966, american forces would participate in clearing, securing, reserve, reaction and offensive operations required to sustain and support the resumps of pacification. and again, this is another
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important point. these military offensive operations are not and should not be seen as an end unto themselves. they are a step in a larger hole and that larger hole is a campaign to achieve political stability in south vietnam and create linkages between the local population and the government in saigon. and finally, in phase three, macv would oversee the defeat and destruction of remaining enemy forces inside south vietnam and their base areas. of course, where are the north vietnamese base areas? in locales off points there west more land and his forces, most of those -- at least most importantly of those being in cambodia and laos. so, it is important to note here, i think that west more land's official report on the war, as he is outlining this three-phase campaign plan, includes the term "sustained campaign." so i would ask to you think
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about this word attrition, less about westmoreland focused on killing the enmaimed more about, again,ity mating that this is going to be a sustained, long struggle. now, certainly, the general was under no illusion that u.s.s fors were engaged in a war of an my leg, no napoleonic battles to be found here and i think westmoreland realized that. attrition suggested that a stable south vietnam capable of resisting both the military and applied cal pressure from both internal and external aggressors was not going to rise in a matter of months or even years. for west more land this three-phase established campaign with a multitude of political and military tasks defies easy explanation. if we don't call it attrition, what do we call it? and i think that's the problem.
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what westmoreland lacked, i think the entire united states army and the vietnam war era lacked was a way to articulate broad military concepts for such a complex environment, like south vietnam. the complexity of the fighting in south vietnam caused immense problems with strategic articulation. what i do call this war what do i call this strategy? an impoverished strategic language left uniformed officers and their civilian leadership, if not the country as a whole, unable to communicate their intentions and the means to achieve the political objectives at happened. in short, the military lexicon of the day that was up suited to the myriad tasks required of west more land's command. now, lacking precise terminology to describe three bats macv was
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simultaneously fighting comes with a risk of ambiguity, i think any broad concept comes with such a risk. a postwar survey conduct ed amog those jones serving in the military assistance in vietnam, 70% of generals managing the war effort were uncertain of its on joke it was. 70% of the army generals surveyed were uncertain of the war's objectives. i might suggest if attrition of enemy forces if killing the enemy, if racking up body counts had been the guiding light of american strategy in vietnam, we might expect more certainty among the army senior leaders. westmoreland's pin nottic strategy, however, left many american field commanders in doubt about the united states' main purpose in south vietnam. words like attrition, while useful for critics, remained
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unsatisfying in expressing the complexity of the tasks facing americans and probably more importantly, their south vietnamese allies throughout the 1960s. all right, so i have laid out the political problem. i have laid out the conceptual solution that west more land comes up. what about the problems of implementation? there are many. think throughout the war, regardless of the time period, american commanders found it nearly impossible to traps late military successes into political progress. a key point i think for understanding the american effort in vietnam. as one usaid adviser noted, we never articulateded our massive power and abundant resources into con conjunction with vietnamese politics. and i think westmoreland
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understood this. probably the fundamental issue, west more land's words, in 1966, is the issue of coordination of mission activities in saigon. it is aup about dantly clear that all political, military, economic and security, in this sense police, programs, must be completely integrated in order to attain any kind of success in a country which has been greatly weakened by prolonged conflict and is under increasing pressure by large military and subversive forces. it's important to note here that this prolonged conflict preceded, long preceded, american participation. this integration will bedevil american commanders throughout the war in vietnam. military operations, even successful military operations,
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often cause depopulation in the countryside. therefore, contradicting the very goals that americans were trying to achieve. how could you develop a sense of political stability and political community when your village, your district, your province is being ravaged by war? and again this is a country that has long been at war. despite america's military operations, pacification efforts and training south vietnamese forces, enemy recruitment in the south continues. enemy reinforcement from the north continues. some years, nearly unabated. it is a frustrating time for americans between 1964 and 1968. tactical success is oftentimes achieves only temporary results. you raid this in memoirs and
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after-action reviews of officers. of the successful operation against the national liberation front forces and the political insurgency and three to six months later, the insurgency seems like it hadn't even been hit by american forces at all. maxwell taylor will even call the national liberation front a phoenix, which continues to rise from the ashes. by think it's important to note here that the killing of enemy forces never served as an end unto itself, as i mentioned earlier. westmoreland always looked to follow military operations, combat operations, with pacification program. i have used this word a few times and i think it's important to explain here. the way macv defined pacification was establishing the linkages between the rural population and the saigon government.
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there was a realization in the 1960s that that linkage, if you will, been broken and a shad i do parallel government had instilled it he have is in that gap, the national liberation from the had inserted itself, if you will, between the rural population and the saigon government. what westmoreland was trying to achieve here, given his objective independent, stable, non-communist vietnam was to re-establish those linkages, again, a difficult tax, i think, for any foreign force, but as westmoreland writes in his official report on the war, pacification effort and the main force war were essentially inseparable. they were opposite sides of the same coin. the problem was every time you flip that coin, one side seemed to be working against the other. every time i had a successful military operation, if i'm a commander in vietnam, i seem to have a problem of creating and
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maintaining momentum with the political side of the war. it's important to note too that president lyndon johnson's national security team is also speaking in the same language that west more land is using. national security adviser mcgeorge bundy described the concept in late 1965 as halting the enemy offensive by destroying the southern insurgency and passive vine selected high-priority areas that happened is bundy's relating west more land's strategic concept to the president, he says that after progressively restoring the country to governmental control, westmoreland will then aim to support rural construction with comprehensive attention to the pacification process. so, if the critics are right, and arguing that west more land had been singularly committed to
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atritting enemy forcing. i had duped his civilian leadership and i don't think that was the case, 'cause say what you will about mcgeorge bundy and robert s. mcnamara, they are pretty intelligent folks. and i think they understood as well the problems of relating and translating military success into political progress. and we can talk if would you like in the question and anticipate period about certainly a con strollers figure, robert s. mcnamara. also important i think to note is that west more land would have been out of step with contemporary theories on counterinsurgency, if not army doctrine if all did he was focus on killing the enemy. contemporary counter insurgency theory and army doctrine of the day with the assumption that security preceded all other military and political
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operations. i would argue that we speak in similar terms today. if you look at the last ten years of the army's experiences in both iraq and afghanistan, commande commanders indoctrine all speak of the importance of providing some sense of security to the local population so political stability can take hold. in short, only in a secure environment could pacification flourish, a point that was well understood, i think, by the united states' army at the time. in fact, when luke at westmoreland's june 1965 concept of the operations, in fact, i think dutifully follows the army's doctrinal prescriptions. he notes that in order to defeat the insurgency inside south vietnam, the people must be provided security of you two kinds, to secure the country from large, well-equipped units, including those which come from outside the country, these are the north vietnamese regular
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army units and secondly, the population required security from the guerilla, the assassin, the terrorist and informer. now, west more land will use a scription to get at this. he will describe south vietnam as a house. and that house is clearly not a stable one. probably get a good deal for tonight open market. and that house is under a dttac by two separate enmis. it sudden attack by termites and these termites are slowly eating away at the foundation of this house and these termites are, of course the national liberation front, the southern insurgency. now, standing off to the side of this house are what west more land calls the bully boys and these are -- these rough and ready soldiers with crowbars that at any given moment when
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the mother-in-law forces and allies are focusing on taking on the termites, the bully boy will rush in with their crow bars and start tearing down the house. what westmoreland will stay in his memoirs and rightfully so he can ignore neither one of these. i ignore -- it i cannot ignore either the main force units or the southern insurgency and if i do so i do it at my per.. now, of course, instability in saigon is also an important part of this equation. so are the dez certifications and corruptions of the forces of the south vietnamese army and oftentimes, clearly get this from americans in particular, they see a south vietnamese army that is often unsympathetic to the country's rural population. and by 1966 and '67 in
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particular, you see frustration budge up from american officer corps as well as the civilian leaders were directing the war effort. moreover, i think american military effectiveness, and here's the important point in this larger point i would like to make about the problem of implementation, is that any military effectiveness could not impose political con stan soil the saigon's leadership. nor could if it force the south vietnamese armed forces or the population to view the central government in saigon as the single legitimate political entity, which could better combat the insur gent threat and perhaps more importantly take into account the population's needs. in short, not all problems inside south vietnam could be solved by american military
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might. by 1967, think clearly both sides and recent scholarship that focuses on the north vietnamese effort i think comes to this conclusion that both the americans and the hanoi leadership are concerned that the war has entered into a prolonged stalemate. you will see a series of decisions made in the hanoi politburo, by lay swan, lead to the tet offensive in early 1968. this is, unfortunately, proceeded by a long salesmanship campaign, prosecuted by the johnson white house where westmoreland is brought home a number of names 1967 to report on the progress of the war. west more land will dutifully follow the president's wishes. he will qualify as best he can when talking in public about how much progress the united states is making in vie yet nam but the
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message has taken hold by 1967 and that message is that the united states is, in fact, taking progressvietnam. a nationwide offensive wreaks havoc across vietnam in late january and early february of 1968, there are failed expectations across the board and those failed expectations in the aftermath of tet swiftly lead to the conviction that west more land had somehow presided over a flawed strategy inside south vietnam. not only had the president decided on national -- very nearly before going on national tv he was not going to run for re-electioning, but more importantly, there was a problem with public support. the aftermath of the tet offensive, walter cronkite most famously will go on television and question the war effort and johnson will say, if i've lost walter cronkite, i've lost
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middle america. and thus, i have lost the war. but these failed expectations, increasingly as the war preceded and the war end ed will turn on westmoreland him seville. they will argue that westmoreland's focus on attrition had blinded him to the true nature of the war and here is the phrase that we hear over and of again. if only. if only westmoreland had developeded and implemented a better strategy focusing more on counterinsurgency techniques and less on atritting enemy forces, the americans would have been better placed to achieve victory. if only westmoreland had fought a better war, like his successor, creighton abrams are, the united states would not have lost the war in vietnam. and these if only arguments will proliferate after the war.
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if only the military had been allowed to wind the scope of the into camp bode ya and laos and north vietnam. if only public support had remained strong, those damn hippies. if only a resolute civilian leadership had been willing to see the war through, those damn politicians. yet among military critics in particular, the notion of a failed strategy remained at the heart of arguments why the united states lost in vietnam. unfortunately, i think these simplistic and mistaken concepts have dominated most all narratives of the vietnam war, especially american centric histories. in fact, we have reduced it to where we can reduce it no further. one historian has described westmoreland's strategic equation as mobile pit plus fire power equals attrition.
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we could not ask to simplify strategy anymore, could we? for the most complex of wars fought by the united states and in the 20th century, we can boil it all down to a one plus one equals two equation. but the macv commander never relied on attrition and on an attrition strategy in vietnam, just he's never employed a counter insurgency strategy. given the complexities of this conflict, which was waged inside south vietnam, and also across southeast asia and also within the larger cop text of the cold war, sum rising westmoreland's campaign strategy in one word, attrition, seems fraught with imprecision at best and prevariation at worst. that the united states failed in vietnam does not necessarily prove that westmoreland implemented a flawed strategy of
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attrition. as i mentioned earlier, i think you can have a good strategy and still lose a war. the campaign plans and the overarching military strategy on which they were based, i think represented an inclusive set of concepts that focus on combatting and defeating an enemy, cannot forget that this was war. and also at the same time, relied on a vast array of political and diplomatic and social and cultural instruments of power. as westmoreland main taped from the start, the war in vietnam is a political war as it is a military war. and it is in this portion of the war, the political one, that americans arguably face their greatest challenges. and this is where i would like to end up this evening.
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in large sense, i think senior u.s. policymakers of the day were asking too much of their military strategists. in the end, vietnam was a civil war between and among vietnamese. for the united states, the foundation on which american forces waged a struggle involving both the construction of an effective host government and the destruction of a committed communist nationalist enemy proved too fragile. officers like west more land and his successor, creighton abram, found that nation building in a time of war was one of the most difficult tasks to ask of any military force. the faith in the power to recop struck the if not create a south vietnamese political community
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led to policies which should not address the fundamental issue, the internal contest to define and come to a consensus on vietnamese nationalism and identity in the modern aim. so, i think if there is perspective to be gained from this long american experience in southeast asia, it arguably lies here. as uncomfortable as it is about what i'm about to say, i think this is true, not all problems can be solved by military force. even if that force is combined with political and economic and social efforts. the capacity of americans to reshape new political and social communities may not, in fact, be limitless. so, i would like to end with math through ridgway, who is a commander, obviously, of american and united nations
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forces in korea, in the core reyap war, and he is writing of those experiences while the vietnam war is still raging. and he offers an important conclusion. he tells his readers in his memoirs of the korean war that in setting foreign policy objectives, policymakers need to look to define those policy objectives with care and to make sure that they lie within the range of our vital national interests and that their accomplishment is within our capabilities. so i think for those seeking to understand the disappointments of american military strategy during the vietnam war, ridgway's counsel seems a useful starting point. thank you for your attention. [ applause ]
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>> thank you for a very illuminating presentation. >> thank you. >> in your studies, were you able to find evidence of how the flow of sun plies and manpower from the north to the south and how the organization of the northern policy was addressed by our campaign or westmoreland, whoever was directing our campaign? >> right. it's a constant concern, obviously and i think it's a concern even before west more land arrives in 1963 as a deputy macv commander, even before then, american military commanders and if there's a constant of american military commanders in vietnam, it is that that they are continually asking the national command authority to expand the war beyond south vietnam's borders. they argue that the hanoi poll
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lit bureau is not looking at the vietnam war simply within the boundaries of south vietnam, thus, we need to look at the war more comp prehelp civil and thus be able to get at the enemy sanctuaries in cambodia and laos to get at the ho chí minh trail, the main artery that happen snow using to supply the south. so i think westmoreland, in fact, i know west more land is concerned about throughout that -- throughout his tenure in south vietnam. and clearly, this relates to the problem of atritting enemy forces, so as i mentioned in my remarks, we need to make sure that we realize that there are portions of south vietnam in which true attrition of the enemy, atritting you the enemy's forces, made sense. in the mosaic of south vietnam, where different provinces and different districts look different from one another, where the war's unfolding at different rates and in different ways, in some areas, attrition
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of enemy forces makes sense, so thus in the central highlands, which is relatively less populated than other areas of south vietnam, and where north regular army units and regiments as early as 1964 or 1965 are entering into south vietnam. westmoreland feels he has to combat that. and so, that's why we see the battles of the famous -- opening battles in the valley in the province. it's because westmoreland is concerned about the supplies and enemy reinforcements coming down in the ho chi minh trail. worried about these regiments actually cutting south vietnam in half. that's why the campaign unfolds as it does. and that's why we see mel gibson landing at the helicopter, from his helicopter in the valley.
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so clearly he's concerned about this throughout. and so is abrams, as well. the problem is, is one of political decisions made about limiting the war. that johnson, i think, rightfully so is concerned about this war escalating into something larger than it should be. johnson throughout his time as the president is deeply, deeply concerned about this war exploding into something more than a limited war. he's certainly looking back on the american experience in korea and how the chinese were involved one mcarthur overstepped a bit. and i think that is on johnson's mind when he makes the decision to limit american combat operations inside south vietnam. with that decision, though, is the -- is the continuing concern about supplies and external reinforcement of the southern insurgency. >> thank you.
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thank you very much for a great talk, and very illuminating on some points. i have a couple maybe devil advocates points. sort of looking at some of the things you said tonight. three things. first, you know, coming from a corporate background, the fact that you said 70% or 80% of the officer corps wasn't certain what the strategy was. to me, that is a -- you know, a major issue because you can't expect to have everybody pulling in the same direction. >> that's right. >> obviously it's a complex situation, there's many different layers. but the fact that there's not a guided strategy might be seen as something that westmoreland, perhaps, could've done better. the second thing is, military operations with no strategic goal has always been a problem,
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you know, everybody, you know, reads about the germans in like the russian campaign. and they had great, great operational victories that led nowhere. >> right. >> and, you know, part of strong strategy is knowing how to get strategic -- or using your operations to get strategic benefits. >> mm-hmm. >> and the final point is -- of course now it's such a long question, i've forgotten. i apologize. the -- well, i think -- >> okay. yeah, if i could speak to, i guess, both of those. and they're good points, right. the problem, and as i argue in westmoreland's war, i think if there's a point for criticism, that's it. that he has a problem with strategic articulation and never really resolves that problem successfully. what i think adds to that problem, though, is this mosaic concept.
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that the commanders that are operating in the province, or the marines operating along the dmz are fighting a completely different war than those commanders that are fighting the delta. so, for those u.s. army units that are fighting in the central highlands, away from the population center, where their enemy is a conventional threat, it's a completely different war than those army units fighting south of saigon in the populated region where there are very few conventional north vietnamese forces. but there's a whole host of south vietnamese insurgence. that's the problem for westmoreland, i think, he can't just lay down, as you said, a guided strategy for, that one size fits all because the war doesn't work that way. and if he tries to direct wholistically what matters in one area won't matter in another area. and that's what is working in one area may be
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counterproductive in another area. i think your point is a worthwhile one. that westmoreland is never able to successfully articulate this mosaic war to not only his commanders, but i would also argue to the domestic home front, as well. we made, you know, we may argue about whether that was his responsibility or whether that was responsibility of the president. secondly, about military operations with no political goals. i would just ask you to, perhaps, think about the possibility that there is a political goal. right, it is -- the political goal is the independent non-communist vietnam. so there certainly is a political goal. whether that political goal can be achieved by military force, i think, is another thing. and mthe memoirs will lament th fact they didn't have a deep and honest discussion about whether american military forces could achieve that political goal. and i think, again, that's one of the important perspectives to pull out of this is that if
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strategy is, in fact, a bridge and a dialogue between civilian and military leaders, if that dialogue has to be brutally honest. not only when setting your political objectives, but also perhaps just as importantly when talking about the capacity to achieve those objectives. >> thank you for the excellent presentation. this follows up on your last answer. other tactics that were available to the americans, had a strategy, inkblots, things like that. if you want to address the issue of what alternatives there were, both tactically and strategically that other people at the pentagon. >> yeah, sure. >> and the government were advancing at the time. >> i guess since you mentioned, i'll focus just on the marines. so the key argument that comes out of vietnam is that there was a better way. and the marine corps had actually found that better way. and it was through what was
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known as the combined action program, the combined action platoons were groups of young marines that were sent out into the villages. they worked with regional forces and popular forces. really, the militia, local militia forces. and the argument goes that if westmoreland had followed the marines' lead and chosen that different path that the war would've unfolded differently. the problem with that argument is that even the marines didn't follow that alternative. that when you look at the marine combined action program. and, again, this gets to your point about this -- you know, trying to relate military operations to the political goal. where the marines were operating was in the northern most provinces of south vietnam. the threat there was north vietnamese army regiments. so ultimately, less than 2% of the united states marine corps in vietnam was actually
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implementing the combined action program. so i would argue that this was a bit of a false alternative. even the marines who thought they had a better way, they didn't. less than 2% of their operations were focused on these combined action programs in large part because they quite simply could not ignore those bully boys, and there were lots and lots of bully boys in the northern provinces. and alternatively, when you look at the back message traffic between westmoreland and the marines, there's not as much difference in their -- in the language that they're using in terms of securing the population of trying to balance military operations with pacification efforts. i don't think the gap was as large as some historians might have led us to believe. >> did you ever get a chance to meet westmoreland? >> just very briefly at the end of his life, he came up for a visit to west point. >> i had seen him speak once
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after he had retired. and one of the things that struck me was he certainly looked the part, if you were casting for a 1960s, you know, four-star general. >> yeah, we need to remember, right. this is the -- this is the man who won the time man of the year. if you read that article, he is lotted as one of the best and the brightest. he's -- he attends harvard management school and, you know, so i don't think he's quite the modern major general, if you will, that some would have us believe. >> how much control did westmoreland have over the bombing of the north? like versus the restrictions? >> that's a great question. none. and that's the other thing that's important here, right? that -- that much of my
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discussion tonight obviously focused on the ground war inside saigon. but there's also an air war over south vietnam, which is only of tangential, not concern, but only tangentially under the responsibility of westmoreland. he has no control over the bombing campaign in north. he's occasionally asked his opinion. he has no control over the navy. and he has relatively little control over the south vietnamese forces. again, this is more an advisory role for the americans than it is a full blown, we are in command over the south vietnamese forces. and the reason that the decision is made not to put officially put south vietnamese forces under american control is to work against north vietnamese propaganda, which throughout the war was calling the south vietnamese army the puppet army. and the last thing that westmoreland and senior american military commanders wanted to do was to officially put south
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vietnamese armed forces underneath operational control and thus lead -- lend credence to that propaganda. that's an important point here, right? that there are many wars over south vietnam and southeast asia occurring simultaneously. and westmoreland, while he has an important piece, if not the most important piece of that war is not in control of all of the war. >> i would ask you to address what is today the great irony is that america has won in vietnam. vietnam is a stable, capitalist country where even the chinese minority always economically precocious is, again, protected. and it is wildly friendly to the united states. not only the government, but through all segments of the population. so we won. now -- now, how did that happen? the westmoreland strategy didn't
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work. what did work? >> what's that? >> what worked afterwards? i don't know if i can unravel all of that. but i think what i might suggest here that you bring up an important point. and one of the elements of strategy that we don't often talk about that we probably should spend a bit of time talking about is time. not only should we have honest discussions about what military force and -- can achieve in term of political objectives, but how long will it take for those political objectives to be resolved? or achieved. i'm sorry. and so, i think the element of time is an incredibly important part of strategy. in terms of where we got to where we got, i think it -- it
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has a lot to do, i think, with how the cold war unfolded after 1975. it had to do, i think, with local relationships between china and vietnam and cambodia. i think it had to do with a globalization that we saw really take hold in the late -- 1980s and 1990s and the 2000s. and i think clearly, i think it had to do with the economic piece of our foreign policy. and i think in one sense you can make an argument that at least the way we define victory might not have come out exactly the way we wanted it, but this coming summer, i would be taking a group of west point cadets to vietnam for the first time from the history department and that does say something, doesn't it? >> i wonder if you could just comment briefly on how the difficulties in understanding
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what was happening in vietnam that you talked about in no sure victory related to the difficulties of westmoreland refining the strategy during his tenure there. >> yeah, that's a great question, right? and really, i think, one of the reasons why i wrote westmoreland's war was because i asked that same question. here's a conflict that has no easy metrics for evaluating how well you are progressing. so unlike world war ii where you land on the normandy beachheads on the 6th of june, 1944. and then at the end of june, you're here. and then by july, you're here, and then you take paris and at the franco german border and everyone understands by using geography as a scorecard how well the war is going. in a war without front lines like vietnam, how do you know you're winning? and if you don't know how well you're winning, how do you know if your strategy is working? and i think that's another important part here of the
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implementation of this strategy. not only is westmoreland dealing with a number of different wars that are occurring simultaneously throughout south vietnam. in fact, throughout southeast asia. but he also has very little ability to get a true understanding of how well the war is progressing and how effective the united states armed forces are doing in terms of achieving that military, or those political objectives. and that is incredibly frustrating for not only westmoreland, but i think for subordinate military commanders. how do i assess the loyalty of the local population if pacification is all about creating linkages between the population and the saigon government. if i don't know how to assess the political loyalty of a population with which i don't know their culture and i don't understand their language. how do i do that? i mentioned earlier, the importance of expanding control
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over the population. how do i measure control? how does a foreign force measure local governmental control over its population? i don't think the americans ever figured that out in south vietnam. so part of the problem, i think, with the implementation of strategy is if you don't know how effective it's being because the metrics don't seem to be quite making sense, then you can't make the best adjustments mid stride that you should be able to make. and i think that is a problem that really bedevils not just westmoreland but abrams, as well. and i think an important point for any war that doesn't have a front line where there are visible scorecards for how well the war's going. that's a great point. >> one thing you didn't mention in westmoreland strategy is american public opinion which, i think in the end was the most important thing deciding victory or defeat in the war. >> yeah. >> and i think the -- it's telling, again, that it's not
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there. >> well, i'm sorry -- okay. >> well -- >> go ahead. >> especially, again, if you think, oh, this is going to take years and maybe decades. >> right. >> and this is not something that democracies are not good at sustaining, you know thousands and thousands of casualties year after year. >> that's a great point. and i probably didn't articulate as well as i should have. some of these quotations. when he's using the words long pull to the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, he's talking about in the context of public opinion. and especially in 1967 when journalists are using words like quagmire and mired and stale mi mate. back channel messages is always talking about public opinion as one of these key elements of strategy. so not only is time a principal element of strategy, but clearly public opinion is, as well.
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and you see that clearly laid out in the back channel messages between westmoreland and the pentagon and the white house. and so, again, this -- this definition of attrition is one that is less focused on attrition of enemy forces and more about even political attrition at home. the attrition of the popular opinion and popular will at home. and that's clearly a concern to westmoreland, i would argue, much earlier than 1967. but by 1967, it's at the forefront of his mind. >> yeah, you talk about strategy not being attrition. it's never a strategy, it's a tactic. you don't mention tactics at all and grand strategy. the grand strategy was the goals of the -- stable, independent, very eloquently demonstrated that we won the war on those
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things. and in terms of a grand strategy and how we could've won that war much earlier perhaps when he was making offers to us to negotiate some kind of thing in '54 and '56, we could've gotten all of that back then without a war. >> yeah, so i think that's a good point right there. and i do mention this in the -- in westmoreland's war as i kind of outline a similar approach to strategy. that i agree, i think there are two different levels of strategy. grand strategy, which is really, i think, the purview of policy makers, at the grand strategic level that set the political objectives and a su bordinate military strategy. clearly, westmoreland, i think his purview lies more in the realm of military strategy than grand strategy.
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and that grand strategy, i think, again, we have to take a look within the larger construct of the cold war. right. that johnson and george bundy and others and the joint chiefs of staff in particular are also looking to grant strategy globally from a european standpoint in the 1960s from the southeast asian standpoint, a chinese standpoint. and that grant strategic concept will change over time, as well. from a perspective of grant strategy that the vietnam in 19 -- the south vietnam in 1965, which seems to be so essential to american national security is not the south vietnam that is so important to national security in 1970. that south vietnam in 1970 does not matter as much to president nixon and to henry kissinger as it does to lyndon b. johnson in
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1965. >> i also -- i also thought you ought to bring in the whole mccarthy anticommunist political situation in the united states. >> right. clearly i think that johnson in 1965 is, you know, mccarthyism certainly died out a bit by the time you get to the early 1960s. but i think certainly communism and the fear of the domino effect which is really kind of, is articulated by eisenhower in the mccarthy era, if you will. i think is still on johnson's mind. he doesn't want to lose south vietnam like truman lost china. like china was truman's to lose. but clearly, i think, johnson is thinking along those terms. and when he's devising his grand strategy and the political objectives for south vietnam. >> sir, you started off saying you can have a grand strategy but still lose a war.
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in the context of our current situations in iraq and afghanistan, is that situation still hold true? >> so this is, i think, where i'm obligated to say that what i'm about to say is not representative of the department of defense. clearly, i think we've -- you know, we've, i don't think there's any doubt that we've struggled, i think, with relating military effectiveness to political progress. and certainly there's a debate among both military officers and scholars about the effect, as an example as a surge in iraq. and whether that was militarily successful or politically successful. but, yes, i think even -- even with today, it's possible to have a -- comprehensive strategy
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that takes into account local conditions, local politics, that takes into account regional issues and still not be able to translate american military power into political objectives. i don't think there's any question over the -- over the course of the last ten years that we're still struggling with that. and, i don't think we should be surprised by that. because i think that is the general problem of war. that if war is, in fact, a context -- contest of wills, and if he's right that war is an instrument of policy, then we shouldn't be surprised that the crux of war, the crux of strategy is successfully translating military power into something political. to make war useful. and i think we have been struggling with that over the last ten years. and i think it's something worthwhile for all of us to think about. >> hi. how you doing? >> good. >> i think you are a wonderful,
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compelling speaker. really great. i'm going to ask something probably been asked a million times. maybe by today it's a comic book question. but in terms of -- >> is this going to be like who's better? superman or batman. >> we could've used those guys, right? >> if only we had superman. >> what if we just nuked hanoi, right? just killed everybody, you know what i'm saying. cut the head off the snake and the body will die. we nuke them and the war ends, right? don't you think? are you afraid of a third world war? is that what you're afraid of? >> i think the question, besides, i think the moral and ethical implications, and clearly -- >> you know. >> i think the issue is one of proportionality. we have to ask ourselves, at
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what cost does victory come? and i think, you know, clearly the use of atomic weaponry is debated in 1954 when the french are on the verge of losing, there was an argument made by some among the joint chiefs of staff that we should use tactical nuclear weapons to keep the forces at bay and save the french and ultimately eisenhower, i think, correctly makes a decision not to go down that road. but, i think, more generally, it's worth thinking about the problem of proportionality. and was it worth -- was an independent non-communist vietnam worth that cost? and i don't think it was. i think that, you know, for those that argue that if only we were able to expand the war, if only we were able to put more of our military effort. clearly, i think we could've won the war. i don't know if i subscribed to
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the unwinnable war thesis. clearly, we could've won. but it would have come at a tremendous, tremendous cost to the vietnamese population. and they already suffered horrendous casualties. for a war that's been so scarring to our nation, it pales in comparison to the impact it's had on vietnam. and not just the american war, the french war, and this long conflict that preceded american ground forces arriving in vietnam. so i would suggest that, again, another portion to -- another important portion of strategy is thinking about proportionality. and i think the use of our nuclear arsenal in the 1960s might have -- might have kind of overstepped that boundary of proportionality. >> thank you. i'm wondering if the real lesson of vietnam, westmoreland sort of hinted at it. was that all politics are local. and the domestic enemies are the
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ones that count. and we can go from there to -- well, from vietnam to iraq, afghanistan, libya and ukraine. and america -- well, we don't seem to appreciate that. and where's the responsibility when saddam hussein was out of the way, the shia came to power and turned on the sunni. and the kurds were like secondary enemies even though they have oil money. and obviously, you know, they are a kind of enemy. where is the responsibility on the part of military advisers to let the civilian advisers know that all politics are local? >> clearly, i think it's a key responsibility for military officers. and that's why i do like collin gray's definition of strategy being this bridge between
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civilian policy makers and military leaders. because i think that honest dialogue is so incredibly important. and clearly, i think, at least in the context of vietnam. you do see american officers, not just westmoreland, i think clearly the advisory core that's operating with a province chiefs and the district chiefs and the south vietnamese army. they're all talking about the importance of the south vietnamese winning their own war and winning their own conflict. so i think it's an important point. and, again, that's why i like that -- the dialogue understanding of strategy. and here as i mentioned at the end of my talk, i think we probably overestimated a bit. we overestimated our capacity to influence local politics, to influence this question about national identity and the relationship between the individual vietnamese and his or her government. i think we probably
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overestimated our capacity to answer those questions. >> interesting use of the word attrition in terms of misinterpretation of westmoreland's strategy. given the recent scholarship that's come out that was the north's strategy and that they did truly intend to fight, what do you think of the theory that despite the most excellent 360-degree strategy, he was simply outlasted by an enemy that used attrition against his own attrition? >> right. >> the enemy always has a vote, doesn't he? the recent scholarship and probably the best work is hanoi where he's a professor at university of kentucky and wrote a wonderful book on -- that
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outlines the first secretary's own strategy. and he is fighting a war of attrition, but is also in numerous, on numerous occasions trying to win the war militarily through a general offensive and general uprising. tries it in 1964. most famously tries it in 1968 -- and then successfully in 1975 after the withdrawal of american forces. i think that's important to realize here. if critics who argue that westmoreland. there are those that argue that westmoreland should've focused more on counterinsurgency. the problem with that is that's not how the enemy was fighting. the enemy was, in fact, sending large military main force units into south vietnam in hopes of achieving the political objective of winning the war through military means in short
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order. so as an example, in the aftermath of both john f. kennedy -- deaths in 1963, sees an opportunity here to potentially try to win the war before the americans, or at least defeat the south vietnamese armed forces before the americans war really takes hold. and clearly, you see that through the infiltration of north vietnamese army units to include regiments into south vietnam. when i mentioned that westmoreland realizes he can't ignore these bully boys or main force units, i think that's important. and recent scholarships suggest in one sense, he was right. he couldn't ignore them because he was also trying to win this war militarily. and if he couldn't do it through direct battle and a general offensive, general uprising, he would certainly try to do it through attrition.
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>> yes, first of all, i have to disagree with my colleagues here. we did not win in vietnam. if you look at cambodia -- they lived through poverty and death multiplied many times. but as far as the issue about nationalism, nationalism was the only mode we could use as we did in -- must do in iraq and afghanistan to defeat islam and beat communism. we have to have something to counter those religions. and they were very, very powerful. i mean, i just looked at the film, and they're talking in san francisco about, you know, the preparation for rioting, which happened in '68. and it was in england. and it was in the united states, obviously, massively. it's extremely difficult to go against a powerful religion like
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communism and islam. and as you said, we should've -- we should've highlighted -- we should've promoted nationalism. but it's the only counter. and i cannot see any other way of doing it. so i agree with you to a point. >> and i think that brings up an important question for any strategist, either civilian or militaries. how do you fight a revolutionary war of ideas? next question, please. >> you have implied that the united states won world war ii. my friend and i were in company first battalion special forces group in 1974. shelby, as you know wrote several books on vietnam. in '76, we did an article for strategy and tactics. this was a battle around westmoreland's in the summer of
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'41. basical basically, barbaroso was defeated. this time, the soviets were losing 10,000, 16,000 killed per day before we even entered world war ii. >> right. the problem in the cold war, we can't acknowledge them. we have to say we won the war. >> apparently you've implied that several times that we won the war. it is true that we were the winners -- >> no, i'm sorry. perhaps misunderstood. >> no, my point -- >> why didn't we learn this back in the second world war? was it our arrogance or our ignorance that got us into the same mess in vietnam? >> i might be more generous and say it was less arrogance and ignorance and more just a faith in power to build societies.
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and i think we need to put this into context. the 1960s where social sciences are really taking hold, where modernization theorys are really taking hold. if you look at the language that john f. kennedy uses, and those who are in the national security establishment like walt rosdo, for example, there is modernizing power to build nations abroad. so, i think it's less arrogance and ignorance and more just a faith in this democratic capitalist society, which is at the height of its power in the 19 -- late 1950s and early 1960s. and especially when you look at just when you look at consumerism as one index. that we want to believe john f.
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kennedy when he says we can go out and do all these wonderful things. and there's social science that seems to back that rhetoric up. and if we have military officers who have fought against totalitarianism, against fascism in world war ii and done so successfully, you fought in the korean war and not just contained but rolled back communism in the mid 1950s. and i think that faith in american power, which may seem a bit arrogant now, i think when you put it in the context of the era, it may not be as unreasonable as it seems on its face. >> in the midst of the vietnam war, right in the middle of it, ho chi minh was thrown out of power literally by -- an
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aggressively, calling for world domination of communism. and eventually, you know, in 1975, we left vietnam. and as far as i know, he was in power. and one would assume that vietnam would've pursued that agenda of world domination. but it didn't turn out that way. it turned out more the way dave gordon describes it. >> right. >> what happened between then and now? >> part of the problem, i think, is that they are also balancing their own requirements. and we need to realize that after the bifurcation of vietnam in 1954 where there is two entities, a south and north vietnam. that in north vietnam, hanoi's leaders are having to make decisions about supporting an
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insurgency in the south to reunify this country in the aftermath of a long and bloody colonial conflict, or anticolonial conflict. and also build their own stable nation in the north. and that is a debate, again, brings this up in hanoi's war. that others are constantly having to make choices between building a political, a stable political community in the north and feeding and reinforcing the southern insurgency in the south. so in the aftermath of the american war in 1975, that takes on a regional aspect as they now not only have to balance the problems of reintegrating southerners into vietnam, some of the southerners who obviously fought against communists. but also now have to deal with a very unstable cambodia and have
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to deal with a china that is increasingly aggressive. so it's not as easy, i think, for the hanoi bureau coming out of the american phase of the vietnam war to simply call it success and move on. >> he died in 1986, and that was the turning point. when he died, people who came after him said communism doesn't work. it didn't work in china, they changed it in 1980. they're trying to catch up with china and the new leadership said -- >> i just want to get back to strategy and tactics. the french were able to hold the entire indochinese peninsula with about 200,000 troops. and we had 500,000 troops in
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westmoreland wanted 200,000 more if i'm not mistaken, which brought upon the resignation of the president. didn't we learn anything from the french? >> we did. i -- i might suggest that the phrase that the french held indochina with that many troops might not be accurate. that the french will hold certain areas and certain -- and those areas are urban areas. but the problem is, they -- i don't think they did hold the country. they held only very small portions of the country. and that will become a problem for them as they're trying to execute their own strategy fighting the french indochina war. what i find fascinating here, and certainly the americans will look back on the french experience in indochina, the
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british experience, the french experience in algeria. and i think what they find is a difficulty of coming to consensus over what the term control means. and i think that's where you getting at with, you know, the french held or controlled areas of indochina while they were still a colonial power. and, i think that's the key problem for the americans is despite the experiences of the french, it's difficult to find and assess how well you are controlling a portion of that political community, especially when there's a shadow government that is parallel to the supposedly legitimate government and competing for not just resources but the loyalty of the population. and, again, i don't think it's that piece of the definition of strategy control was ever fully determined by the americans. >> last short question.
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>> okay. >> i had to wait a long time for this. in early '68, i was in base training in ft. jackson. the -- you could obviously hear easily every day talking about the restraints. >> right. >> didn't curse westmoreland out, but lbj. and the restraints he was under was the incremental build-up. >> right. >> and i don't think you spoke much about it. and just an observation of my own having fought in vietnam in '69 was that the only thing i ever saw later on was that really worked. was one and two. that got them to the -- to
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negotiate with us. >> yeah, that's an important point, i think, that that clearly westmoreland is dealing with the theory of graduated pressure, which kind of takes hold in the national security establishment. this idea that we can, we can determine how much pressure to ratchet up or ratchet back. and eventually, hanoi will realize that it can't win this long war. because we have the ability to either ratchet up or ratchet back. unfortunately, we don't have that ability. and we don't have the ability to so neatly determine the pace of the war, pace of military operations, or determine the pace of how quickly the local population is seen the south vietnamese government as a legitimate entity. and so, what you see here, i
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think, are some disconnects. not only in modernization theorys as we talked about earlier, but this theory of graduated pressure. as we talked about a little bit earlier in the evening, there's a difference clearly between articulating strategy and implementing it. and i think this is a clear case of that. thank you. >> here are just a few of the comments we've recently received from our viewers. >> calling to comment on a debate i saw between bruce fein and a man named john eue regarding the declaration of war and the war powers act. quite interesting to watch the legal debate. and it also demonstrated some of the ineptitude of the neocon proposition that from the
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beginning of any war, the president is the ultimate hearsay of the country's ability to go to war. >> i would like to commend c-span 2 for airing the information from the writers on greece and the military. it was excellent information that gave depth levels interaction and dynamic and nuances. and the reality, for instance, that post traumatic stress disorder can climb up and can be resolved if you continue to try various interventions. >> i think american history tv
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on c-span is one of the best programs available. i wish we could do it more than once a week. >> continue to tell us what you think about the programs you're watching. 202-626-3400. e-mail us at comments@c-span.org. or send us a tweet at c-span #comments. like us on facebook, follow us on twitter. next, on american history tv, author donald miller explores manhattan's transformation in the 1920s. from an urban backwater. mr. miller is the author of supreme city. how jazz age manhattan gave birth to modern america. walter chrysler oversaw the skyscraper building boom. and zigfeld. also, the creation of cultural
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and architectural feats that are now iconic symbols of new york city. this event was hosted by the new york public library. it's about an hour and a half. >> great. thank you, lois, and i want to thank the library for organizing this event. can you hear me in the back? can you hear me now? no? yes? i'll speak loudly. well, it's great to be in the city lecturing on the city that you wrote about. in the very place you wrote about it. midtown manhattan. a couple of preliminaries before we roll into this
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